First Sunday of Advent
Bishop of Lake Charles
First Sunday of Advent
November 29, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
“Be vigilant at all times.” Luke 21:36
Invitations come in all shapes and sizes. When we get an invitation in the mail, there are always directions, either implied or explicit. If the invitation is to a picnic, we know to go casually dressed. If we are invited to someone’s home for dinner, it is understood that we go “casual nice.” If the occasion is more formal, the invitation might say, “formal.” Sometimes the invitation will have written at the bottom, “RSVP.” That means we should respond to let the host know how many are coming.
I think of Advent as an invitation, an invitation to the Kingdom of God. We are preparing for Christmas, the mystery of God becoming Man in Jesus Christ. Christmas is a celebration of the mystery of salvation, and Advent issues the invitation and gives directions on how to prepare and how to attend.
St. Paul tells us in the second reading, “You should conduct yourselves to please God” (I Thessalonians 4:1). What does that mean? St. Paul adds, “Strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness” (I Thessalonians 3:13). If we are invited to the Kingdom of God, then we must come dressed in holiness.
Jesus, knowing that sometimes humans need warnings to be prepared, speaks of awful signs appearing. “On earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright” (Luke 21:25-26). But Jesus is not talking to just anyone. He is addressing these words to His disciples. They are supposed to know better. They have already accepted the invitation to the Kingdom of God. Their hearts should already be dressed in blameless holiness. So Jesus adds, “When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise you heads because your redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:28). Those who have received the invitation, accepted it, and prepared themselves for the event should not fear.
Remember the parable of the wedding banquet in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a king that gave a wedding feast for his son. The invitation is sent, but the invited guests refuse the invitation. Some make excuses. Some are less courteous and ignore the invitation. So the king invites anyone he can find walking along the streets and in the road. “But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’” (Matthew 22:12). When the guest cannot explain himself, the king throws him out. The parable ends with these words, “Many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). As guests, we must accept the invitation and dress for the occasion.
Advent is a time to acknowledge the invitation and prepare. We cannot go to the feast of the Kingdom of Heaven with what Jesus calls in the Gospel today, “carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life” (Luke 21:34). We must be “vigilant at all times” (Luke 21:36). That is the best way to show that we have received the invitation and have accepted it.
So often we are concerned with troubles in life. Some of these troubles are genuine and real. Some, however, are self-inflicted troubles that obscure the invitation. We can live very complicated lives, but instead of simplifying our lives, we only make them more complex. The anxieties of life indeed catch us like a trap, to quote the Gospel. As I always like to say, if I am on a diet, then I do not go into the candy shop. Who am I fooling? Only myself, if I think I can withstand the temptation. If I indulge in the pleasures of this world without consideration to discipline or the moral life, then I am indeed headed for destruction. If I am not “vigilant at all times,” then I am truly ignoring the invitation to the Kingdom.
An invitation to the Kingdom of God just doesn’t imply discipline and prayer. It requires it. To be “blameless in holiness” is the call. Advent is the invitation. The Kingdom of God is the event to which we are invited.